By Patrick Eccles-Williams, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Although Rio is more renowned for its beaches, football (soccer), and samba than for its culinary variety, the boteco is an important part of Carioca culture that must not be missed by visitors to the city. Botecos are local restaurant bars that generally serve a mixture of beer, cachaça, caipirinhas, and basic food; but like watering holes across the globe, not all are equal.
Each bar varies greatly from one to the next, with some geared more towards drinking, while others are singled out for their culinary delights. One of the defining features of a boteco is that the food is often very simple; this has led to it being described by many as baixa gastronomia (low cuisine). This, however, is not supposed to imply that the food is of an inferior quality to the more upmarket restaurants.
Guilherme Studart, author of “Rio Botequim”, says the following: “Although the food they serve is generally not hugely sophisticated, the botecos can present high quality cuisine, often with that flavor of home cooking.”
While visiting Rio, here are some ‘must-visit’ botecos in the city:
Bar Bracarense (Leblon)
This boteco in the upmarket neighborhood of Leblon is often crammed with customers and is thought of very highly amongst the locals. The menu offers a selection of the most typical Brazilian petiscos and the highlights here are the sanduíche de pernil (ham hock sandwich) and the bolinhos de aipim (mandioca balls).
Adega Perola (Copacabana)
Fans of fish and seafood need look no further than this Portuguese tapas-style boteco in Copacabana. The different dishes are all on display so diners can see what takes their fancy before ordering. Although the menu does not consist of Brazilian food, it is a favorite among locals and has the feel of a classic Carioca restaurant. The lula (squid) and alho em azeite (garlic in olive oil) stand out.
Tasca do Edgar (Laranjeiras)
As is the case with most botecos, Tasca do Edgar has a very basic and unpretentious feel to it. The owner, Mr. Edgar, still handles the day-to-day running of the bar at the age of 84 and his charming hospitality is one of its greatest draws to the Laranjeiras staple. Two dishes that are particularly good here are rabada com agrião (oxtail with watercress) and feijoada de frutos de mar (seafood bean broth).
Simplesmente (Santa Teresa)
This family-run bar has always been popular among the Santa Teresa locals for its cheap beer and food, and laid back atmosphere. There is live music a few times a week and on weekends it is crammed, with revelers backing out onto the street outside. In terms of food, the caldo de ervilha (pea soup) and carne seca com aipim (dried meat with mandioca) are highly recommended.
Bar do Gomez (Santa Teresa)
Bar do Gomez is a Santa Teresa institution and specializes in a wide variety of delicious petiscos (snacks). Not to be missed here are the bolinhos de bacalhau (cod balls), caldinho de feijão (black bean broth), and pastéis de camarão (mini prawn pies). The traditional decor and tall ceilings create a fitting elegance to accompany the culinary offerings.
Bar Luiz (Centro)
Bar Luiz is one of the oldest and most traditional bars in Rio, having been founded in 1887. The menu has an interesting mixture of Brazilian and German dishes and, as is expected in all botecos, prides itself on serving ice-cold chopps (draught beer). The frango á passarinho (fried chicken) and costela defumada com salada de batatas (smoked ribs with potato salad) are particularly good.
The Cidade Maravilhosa is brimming with these neighborhood bars and, especially when looking for a quick, cheap lunch, trying out your local boteco can be a good bet. The best option is often the prato executivo (set meal) which almost always consists of meat, rice, and beans, and occasionally fries and salad. This is a Brazilian staple and will generally cost between R$12 and R$25.